For a significant portion of his eight-and-a-half years in the North West, it seemed the big centre-half, carved straight out of Redcar rock, had only been borrowed from his beloved Middlesbrough.
The Riverside may be where Wheater made his name, and where it has been sung on every return since, but gradually, almost accidentally, his longevity in the heart of the Whites’ defence has made him an honorary Boltonian in every sense of the word.
Instagram star, community champion, karaoke king – few have been embraced quite like ‘Wheats’ at a time when Bolton’s supporters have been crying out for a hero.
Bit by bit, the memory of a Wanderers team that once graced the Premier League has been eroded by time and financial pressures. And after the departure of his partner-in-crime Josh Vela to Hibs this summer, Wheater was the last man standing.
That he will be wearing the blue of Oldham Athletic this season and not counting down to a decade of service with Wanderers is a winding tale, told in typically self-depreciating fashion over a diet coke at the Bolton Whites Hotel.
After captaining the club last season, Wheater fell out of contract and spent the last few months waiting to see if a takeover could be completed, bringing with it five months of unpaid wages.
When it became clear Wanderers’ issues were not going to be remedied quickly, the 32-year-old accepted an offer to join SPL side Kilmarnock on a pre-season trip to Ibiza, with a view to playing in a Europa League match the following week.
“That’s where it all began,” he told the Bolton News. “I went with Kilmarnock and trained – to be honest I was surprised they offered me a contract because it was my first day back, they’d been in for nine or 10 days, and it was all long-distance running. Not my strong point.
“They offered me something and I was driving back up there to sign when Salford rang me saying they wanted to see me in the morning. I was buzzing because I could stay in Bolton where my family have settled.
“Salford begged me not to go up there, so I said I’d drive slow and think. I went to Rivington services, nipped in Greggs, then stopped at Lancaster services and sat there for an hour thinking ‘do I want to play in Scotland or Salford, which is 10 minutes away?’ “So I turned around, which was silly. I spoke to someone recently who said I was daft because there was a contract there waiting for me, and he turned out to be right. A couple of days after Salford’s only left-footed centre-half got injured and Graham Alexander rang me to say he had to change his mind.
“I rang Nick Allamby (Bolton fitness coach) to see if I could come and train. The gaffer rang me the next morning when I was still in bed. I had the kids and had to get straight on the phone to the wife to get back from the gym so I could shoot down there.
“Ideally I wanted it all to be sorted, all the takeover, all the money, and just to stay at Bolton because I can’t explain it, I just wanted to stay.”
Wheater trained unpaid and played against Saudi side Al-Ittihad and Bradford City behind closed doors to keep up his fitness while Bolton’s players waited patiently for a chink of light in the takeover clouds. None arrived, and one by one, the trailists who had padded out a slender squad started to look for moves elsewhere.
Having already turned down one move to Oldham in the hope of staying at Bolton, Wheater finally started to discuss a deal at the start of last week. It quickly emerged, however, that Wanderers would be unable to offer the sort of security he required, however much he wanted to stay.
“First off we knew the wages wouldn’t be the best – but it wasn’t just that, I wanted two years,” he said. “They didn’t offer bonuses, but I wanted the option and Oldham gave that to me.
“My agent rang Oldham again, so I went for a chat. I took him to the Retreat down the road for some food.
“Bolton eventually gave me an option after 30 games and so I was ready to sign it, even though it was terrible. My mum and dad were advising me against it saying ‘stop thinking with your heart’ but I wanted it, and that was that.
“Then one of the staff told me I could come and sign at Bolton but warned me that it wouldn’t mean anything until the takeover happened. I still went to do it – but then on my way over the Oldham owner spoke to me again, said I wasn’t thinking about my family, and it was like a lightbulb moment. He had a point.
“Am I sad I’m not playing at Bolton? Yeah, I am. I loved played for the club. And even told the owner at Oldham that,” he said. “He told me off, actually.
“He wanted to know why I’d want to sign at a club where the future was so uncertain, and I couldn’t really explain. He had a point and he talked me around in the end.
“It’s hard moving. I have never liked change and even when I first came here it was horrible and I felt like I didn’t want to leave home. There were big characters like Paul Robinson, Kevin Davies, Premier League players who’d been in the business a lot of years, so it was hard.
“It’s probably the other way around now. They know me more than I know them, so it’s a challenge for me but I can stay around here, which was a big thing, so I am happy I made the decision. Nothing lasts forever. I’m 32 now and I’ve got to get on with things.”
Of his highs and lows in a Bolton shirt, Wheater is only too happy to chat.
Wanderers’ fortunes have dipped considerably since they were able to pay £2.3million to bring him from the North East in 2011 but the intervening years have brought some incredible memories.
“That whole 2016-17 promotion season was probably my favourite but if you want the main highlight, it was staying up against Forest,” he said.
“I got an extra year because of (Aaron) Wilbraham’s goal and I think a few of us were out of a job if it hadn’t gone in. That was just incredible.
“I’ve had loads of good times here. I scored the two goals against Blackburn Rovers in the game after Fab Muamba but nobody can find them. One was from Ryo Miyaichi’s corner and the second one was from Martin Petrov whipping one in.
“I’ve had some bad times too. I remember doing my ACL against West Brom. I stayed on for about 20 minutes but kept falling over. In the end it was my mum that ran down to the dugout and shouted ‘you get off, now’ because she knew something was wrong. Mums know.
“I got on the physio’s bed and as soon as I stopped I couldn’t move. I’d been telling people I’d jarred it and that I’d be ready to play Stoke.
“The FA Cup semi-final? Don’t remind me of that. Owen Coyle said I was on four yellow cards so he took me out of the league game against West Ham beforehand. He was superstitious so he stuck with the same team but he only told me pre-match when we’d got out of the lift in the stadium. I’d got all my family down to watch. I just wanted to whack him, to be honest.
“I was gutted about the defeat but I just wanted to hit Owen Coyle, being honest. I couldn’t believe it. I’ll never forgive him.
“Another low – getting sent off against Everton. Zat Knight told me to turn, and there’s the lad (Diniyar Bilyaletdinov) steaming in at me. He didn’t even go off injured but I got a four-match ban. I’m not a right-back, though.”